City commissioners asked to approve credit card and gate system for new downtown parking garage

Soon there will be a new place to park in downtown, and a new chance to give the city a little bit of credit too — as in your credit card.

City Manager David Corliss is now projecting that the city’s new Vermont Street parking garage will be open in time for Kansas University’s first home football game on Sept. 7. When it opens, it may have a new look for downtown as well: a gated entry and exit system that will allow motorists to pay their parking fees by credit card.

“We have had more patrons talking about how they don’t have coins anymore,” Corliss said. “We are trying to increase the payment options.”

City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will be asked to approve about $170,000 in purchases to equip the parking garage, which is located next to the Lawrence Public Library site at Seventh and Vermont, with the gate and credit card system.

Kansas University uses a similar system on its parking garages, but it would be a first for the city’s parking system. In addition, commissioners will be asked to approve several other items related to the garage. They include:

• Setting the parking rates for the garage at 20 cents per hour, which is different than other downtown parking rates. At two-hour parking meters, rates run 50 cents per hour. At 10-hour parking meters, rates are 10 cents per hour. Corliss said he feels a rate in between the two for the garage would be fair for both short-term and long-term parking.

• Approving parking enforcement hours of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. for the parking garage. That’s also slightly different from the hours elsewhere downtown. In the city’s two other downtown parking garages, enforcement hours are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and parking meters are patrolled from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Corliss said he’s recommending something in the middle of those ranges to ensure there is always a parking attendant available in downtown to fix any issues that may arise with a stuck gate or other malfunctions. During off hours, the gates will be up and parking in the garage will be free.

• Approving a system that will allow people who purchase long-term parking passes, which sell for $192 a year at City Hall, to use the new garage without paying a fee at the gate by using a “proximity card” that will raise the gates when their vehicles approach.

Corliss said construction work on the garage is progressing well. Crews are starting to install the exterior screen mesh, which is designed to provide a covering for the garage but also allow natural light into the structure.

“You are starting to get the sense of what it really will look like now,” Corliss said.

Corliss said he is optimistic that at least a portion of the garage will be open by the time KU’s football season begins. The site at Seventh and Vermont streets will be a location for football fans to catch a shuttle to Memorial Stadium.

When the garage is completed, it will have 324 spaces, up from about 125 spaces that existed in the city’s surface parking lot that previously was located on the site.

The garage will have entrances and exits off of both Kentucky and Vermont streets, Corliss said. He said he’s excited to see how the gate system works because it may have potential to be used in other downtown parking lots or garages. Corliss thinks the system has a chance to be a money-saver because it won’t require parking control officers to frequently go to the garage and write tickets, which also will save costs at Municipal Court.

“We are going to have to move our parking system, like we are other parts of government, to more automation,” Corliss said.

The system, however, won’t shut out people who still want to use coins or cash to pay their parking fees. The garage will have stations where people can use coins and cash to obtain a paid receipt that can be inserted at the gate.

Corliss said he thinks the credit card option will be heavily used. But he said don’t expect changes in the near term to allow for credit card payments at meters on Massachusetts Street. He said changing hundreds of meter heads to allow for credit card payments may not be cost effective.

“We maybe get $3 or $4 a day from a parking meter,” Corliss said.

He said the city is watching how other communities are implementing systems that include mid-block pay stations where people can use credit cards. Those pay stations produce a receipt that can be affixed to the vehicle, and alerts parking attendants that the motorist has paid for parking.

“We are looking for ways to make it convenient and cost-effective for visitors and employees to park in downtown,” Corliss said.

Commissioners will discuss the parking garage issues at their 6:35 p.m. meeting Tuesday at City Hall.